How Do I Love Thee? Say it in Latin!

Released: 1/11/2008 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Maryland, College Park
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Newswise — The ancient Romans knew a little something about celebrating love - but it was March, not February when they had their fun. "Love celebrations did not show up on the ancient Roman calendar until March 1, which was sacred to Juno, goddess of marriage. On that day husbands would pray for the health of their wives and give them presents, and wives would dress up," says Classics Professor Judith Hallett at the University of Maryland.

Poems were a favorite way to express that love - for instance, the poet Catullus (ca. 55 BCE) sent this missive to his married lover (translation by Dorothea Wender (1934-2003)):

Let's live, my Lesbia, and let's make love
And let us value all the gossip of
Prudent old men at pennies. When the sun
Sets he can rise again; when we have done
For good and all with our one little light
We sleep forever in one dawnless night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
Another thousand, then a second hundred,
Then still another thousand, then a hundred,
Then, when our number's countless, then, my dear,
Scramble the abacus! So we won't fear
The evil eye of hate, for no one bad
Must know how many kisses we have had.

Hallett says there are many, many examples of romantic poems sent by one Roman lover to another.

But for a romantic looking to express his or her love in the 21st Century, Hallett suggests something a bit...different. A more modern love song - translated into Latin, for example, might just be the perfect way to woo a lady's heart. Take the classic "As Time Goes By" (by Herman Hupfeld. Copyright 1931 by Warner Brothers) made famous in the movie Casablanca.

English:

You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss,
a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

And when two lovers woo, they still say 'I love you,' On that you can rely.
No matter what the future brings, as time goes by.

Moonlight and love songs never out of date,
Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate.
Woman needs man and man must have his mate,
That no one can deny.

It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die.
The world will always welcome lovers,
As time goes by.

Latin:

Haec sunt memoranda, manent suspiria, basia longius.

Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Et cum amant duo, iterant "Te amo",

Fies certissimus,
Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Amores, luna, numquam senescent;

Fervida corda semper invident;
Femina virque sese coniungent,
Fies certissimus.

Eadem fabula, amor cum gloria, dulcis et decorus.
Amantes fovet hic mundus, ut it tempus.

Hallett's recent research has focused on ancient Roman "love talk." In a new essay published in Advances in the History of Rhetoric, Volume 9 (published at Maryland and edited by Professor Robert Gaines of the Communications Department), she focuses on the writing of Plautus' Phoenicium (Pseudolus 41-73). In that comedic work, Plautus - who was a 2nd century BCE (Before Christian Era) playwright - looks at the different ways in which two men of very different social classes assess the erotically-charged words of one specific woman.

"Plautus, in his characteristically funny way, illustrates that social class, that of the critic and that of the writer, plays a major role in how Roman women's writings, and in this case erotic Latin writings, were judged by men," says Hallett.


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